Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport Board Backtracks on Banking Deal

PITTSTON TWP. -- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport officials reconsidered a deal to switch banks and decided to advertise for a financial institution where it will deposit its money.

The advertising mandate announced at a public meeting Tuesday sought to put to rest a contentious issue that arose in August after the airport director planned to move millions to a bank where airport board vice chairman and Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro sits as a director.

Cordaro said he had no hand in the deal to switch from Wachovia to Landmark Community Bank in Pittston. He only learned of it, he said, when he and the other commissioners from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties that make up the airport board met in director Barry Centini's office before the start of the August monthly meeting.

Under the recommendation approved by the board at Tuesday's meeting, Centini will seek proposals from local financial institutions, review them and select an institution. After he makes his choice, Centini must report it to the board at its next public meeting.

The matter nearly ended there, but Lackawanna County Commissioner A.J. Munchak demanded an apology from fellow commissioner Mike Washo for published comments he made calling the planned switch "an inside arrangement."

"I talked to the people involved. I think it was - an inappropriate arrangement. I think it was improper. I think the whole thing was improper," said Washo, who sat next to Munchak during the meeting.

"I'm not talking improper," Munchak shot back. "You're quoted as saying it was definitely an inside arrangement and you accused Bob and I of secretly switching that $5 million to the Landmark Bank where Bob is a director. Did your investigation prove that" Are you satisfied that it was??

While Washo tried to explain, Munchak grew testy and chastised him for not answering the questions.

"Don't interrupt when I'm done. Now you can talk," Munchak directed Washo. "And don't interrupt me Junior. Now answer the questions."

Washo held his ground, saying the way the planned switch was handled was improper.

"Banks were not given an equal chance at participating in the opportunity to get our business," Washo said. "You can call it whatever you want, inside, outside - but this is not properly perceived by the public. It-s not properly perceived by me either."

Washo's comments drew in Cordaro.

"Do your homework Mike," Cordaro told Washo of his claim that $5 million was transferred. The money was not transferred and there was not $5 million in the account, Cordaro said.

"Do your homework Mike," Cordaro shouted. "Take your little dog and pony gotcha act, you better have your facts if you?re going to play gotcha."

As the two talked over one another, Cordaro's voice got louder. "You wanna lie to the public, lie to public and play gotcha. You lied. You lied. You lied and you were wrong. You lied and you were wrong, Mike."

Board members responded more politely to audience member Joseph Burns' request for help with a drainage problem on his Grove Street property in Avoca. Burns said his house has lost property value because of flooding caused by water draining from a strip mine hole on airport property.

Centini said he was aware of the situation and the airport is working to enlarge a retention pond to prevent if from overflowing into a nearby stripping pit that may be causing the problems.

After the meeting, the board met in its second executive session to discuss a lease regarding the airport control tower, said board chairman and Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid.

Before the start of the public meeting, the board met in a closed door session to discuss a lease with Leo Vergnetti about operating the restaurant in the new terminal building, said Vonderheid.

To view a summary of construction services invoices submitted for payment to the Bi-County Board of Commissioners of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport for August, visit www.timesleader.com .

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